Tonights very late Memphis post is brought to you by Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. When your belly is feeling whiny, feed it a Pliney!
Anticipating what was ‘googled’ as 1 of the longest drives of the trip was up early relatively early at 6:30 and for only the 2nd time on this trip indulged in the free complimentary breakfast. But only after being assured the eggs weren’t powered. Factoring in the long drive and anticipating the turbulence in my stomach from the roadside BBQ the night before hoped the eggs would lesson the gastrological blow.
Was outside into a beautiful Texas morning, in the car, and off by 7. There was something equally comforting as blinding that in my 3rd day of heading east I would be driving nearly directly into the sun. The drive again was incident free and it hasn’t gone unappreciated how lucky I’ve been. I passed an accident in Western Arizona where a tractor trailer was turned over on it’s side in the right hand + shoulder, with a much smaller car smashed into [compressed like an accordion] the back with the roof cut out. The car looked to be a Mini or Fiat. Not as small as a Smart but not as big as a midsize and no longer a functioning motor vehicle. This is why Californians [for the most part] are terrible drivers. As a matter of fact saw a lot of the same traits in Arizonans too. Maybe their transplants, maybe it’s a regional residue from the long straight sometimes overpacked roads?
Having left as early as I did, on a relatively straight shot, on a path with fewer construction zones than I’d experienced on so many previous drives made up a little time. Even though having tempted fate with a little too much coffee/water and a couple of subsequent stops actually beat Google estimation by about an hour. I believe this was in large part due to so many of the other vagabonds out there speeding around who I was able to tag along behind. At safe distances of course.
The drive through eastern Arkansas brought with it a familiar and comforting landscape. There were so many more trees than I’d seen in days. Trees and rolling hills. Comforting in a way I was very familiar with as I’ve spent a 1/4 of my life in Virginia the the DC area there is a certain landscape I’d come to recognize as home. And though this was still very far from Northern Virginia this was so very more familiar to me than so much before and the pines of North Carolina I would eventually end up in. It was crossing the Mississippi [passing by The Pyramid] where I was welcomed into Tennessee. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen to often where borders are drawn over bodies of water and if I remember correctly there is a place over the Potomac river where you are welcomed into Virginia — perhaps prematurely.
My stay in Memphis would mark the 1st time I’d made reservations before arriving anywhere (and the 1st & ONLY time I locked myself out of my room). I stayed at the DoubleTree Hilton Downtown, precisely because of it’s proximity to Beale St. and coincidentally across the street from Memphis’ minor league baseball team the Redbirds. An obvious St. Louis Cards triple A team. I thought it would pretty cool to wind down the trip at the RedBirds when I’d in part began it at the Cards. The DoubleTree people were fantastic, the hotel appeared especially nice at first though the room was a little disappointing. Large? Mega large. Unnecessarily large given the vast amount of wasted space in both the bathroom and absence of a closet. I’ll not dwell on it, only point out that the shower was a little moldy and the sliding handicapped shower head would’t stick and only fit for someone 3-4.5ft. tall. I brewed an afternoon cup, flipped open the MacBook and hastily looked for BBQ, beer and brews. Wanting to waste as little time as possible quickly settled on reputable BBQ right on Beale Street. Found it on a map vs. a ‘best of’ list and it was fantastic. The idea that these ribs were on a either of the couple of lists I’d looked over speaks deafening volumes for the ones that did. Both perfectly cooked and sensationally sauced without being the overly-sticky-sweet that so quickly turns meat into a simple vehicle for GMOHFCS-sugar-flavored poison. Beale City Cafe on the corner of Beale and 2nd. Old, inviting, a little divey, close and delicious. The staff was great and fun. Mostly tourists but a few locals. Much to my disappointment so very many of the regionally favored bbq joints are in the burbs. It makes perfect sense but hadn’t occurred to me until my nice-enough though disappointing platter in KC.
Afterwards went for a customary walk to help with the settling of the meat — and fantastic cole slaw I should add. Figure-eighting around the little south eastern edge of the downtown, by the Gibson factory (yay! I didn’t know I was so close) by the stadium where their basketball team (Grizzlies) play and found myself on a less inhabited strip with a few bars, 1 seemingly popular restaurant and a closed liquor store. Closed? On my walk back it was suggested by a drunk local that I was in the wrong part of town. Huh, wha? A couple of empty, generic bars, 1 restaurant full of white people and a half full parking lot is the wrong part of town? Shhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiii Memphis drunky you don’t know where the fuck I’m from does yous?
It was Sunday night (& everyone as I’d come to find out was at the RedBirds game) I lowered my expectations for Beale St. I wasn’t throwing in the bar towel but had lowered them enough that eventually found I’d be happily surprised. My first stop was at a filthy, filthy dive the Beale Street Tap Room. It was appropriately disgusting and while had plenty of taps had few people. It also had ashtrays which I hadn’t seen in a bar in a long time. The smell was familiar and a little sickening but not enough I wouldn’t have a pint. Had a forgettable Bridge Port IPA, got a recommendation Star Trek geek bartender for Rum Boogie’s down the street, shared a story how I’d almost ran down Patrick Stewart when running across 48th av & split. Rum Boogie’s was empty but the band was filling it full of blues. Gracie Curan was pretty great and her guitarist a badass a bit himself. The bar is pretty amazing in that it’s a de facto guitar museum hanging over 360 guitars, all donated by the musicians including everyone. Caught the end of their set and being it was getting late assumed (correctly) my best bet would be BBKings. I was greeted by a wicked cover of Purple Rain. I suppose it goes w/out saying it was a cover. I’d love nothing more than to be writing how I caught Prince swinging by BBKings but, no. BBKing’s Blues Club All-Star Band was pretty badass. Sure by the end of the night it looked like a some generic scene off a cruise ship — 2 dozen retired white hairs in golf shits and wallpaper patterned dresses complimented by the group of college girls seemingly being led by their cheerleading leader directing them on how to flop around like and injured bird — the band was TIGHT.
I sprung out of bed the following day hoping to make it to the Gibson Factory for a tour before it heated up. But between the aforementioned room incident and some issue finding my car — which I needed my hat out of — would have to skip the 11 and do the 12. This particular block-sized Gibson factory only produces 2 guitars. A hollow body electric Les Paul and the GS-335 otherwise know affectionately to the world as BBKIng’s Lucille.
It’s a giant over-romanticized wood shop. Which I LOVED and suspect the geekdom was oozing out of my boyish smile. The tour was a little sloppy as the guide spoke through a mic and small speaker (in a failed attempt to speak over the machinery) for 1/2 of it and it’s very tough to hear. A portable battery operated radio and earbuds would be the way to go. A nice variety of tourists including a larger English family — the sons whom I’d seen posing in front of and then frequenting the city Hooters the night before. After the tour desperately beat down the urge to buy a guitar and headed back to the hotel to change. You see up to this point had spent the overwhelming majority of my time — during the day — in a AC’d car. Or in the upper midwest during a cool spell, or in Yosemite where I woke 1 morning to find it 21°, or on the very humid-less west coast where the sun was strong but it was not hot. This day however the southern summer would lace up it's worn, leathery dog-days and kick me right in the swamp-butt with Mississippi-humidity 94°. Changed, doubled-checked where Sun Studios was, along with what I came to find out was a Nationally ranked zoo and headed out. Sun Studios is a relatively brief mile. Through a primarily auto-repair district and across the street from a growing community college. I bought a ticket for the 3:30 tour, traded it for a 5:30 thinking I was going to skip down the street to the zoo and when it was pointed out to me the zoo was a 20 min drive and not a 20 min walk opted for the 3:30. And have to believe it was fate as our tour guide was sensational. Part of the building which for years had been several different restaurants is now owned by Sun and acts as the lobby/gift shop plastered in pictures and memorabilia. When ready we gathered in the corner and headed upstairs to what I believe was once an apartment or 2 where musicians and whoever else would stay. It is now a glass-encased museum briefly detailing the birth of rock’n roll and narrated by great people — passionate about the studio, the music, the history and their city. The cases were full of original pressing and rare photos and signatures and recording agreements and throughout that narration were snippets of all the relevant music and a rescued radio studio broadcast booth once manned by Dewey Philips. We were then led back downstairs to the still working actually nearly entirely authentic/original recording studio. Being a music lover, having began my trip at the Rock ’n Roll HOF couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming geekdom pummel me about the head & face. Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash and on, and on and on were all there making music and sometimes world-cultural history. Elvis’ first recording. Right freaking there. Go see this.
Afterwards walked and walked a relatively unremarkable Downtown area. Truth be told it was hot and so didn’t do it the justice I’d otherwise might’ve detailing some of the architecture. When I got too hot I hit the 2nd Flying Saucer Tap House on my trip. The A/C was crushing and the tap list formidable. I flirted with a couple of the bartenders, got a dinner recommendation and headed back to the hotel to shower. Fresh and changed didn’t hit another BBQ and instead a relatively new, increasingly popular ‘Local Gastropub’, where they’re doing their best version of Memphis farm > table and it was great. Conversely chose meat. A very fresh and peppery boar sausage on a pile of chipotle, potato, cheesy puree which I couldn’t have eaten a pillow sack of. During dinner a local character who absolutely could’ve stood in for Gene Hackman sauntered in and started chatting me up about the culture. He bought me a stiff drink and I listened a bit longer about this father’s regional automotive empire and split. It was on my way back to Beale I stuck my head into Flying Saucer to thank the lovely young bartender who’d given me the recommendation. Upon finding her seaming shock and happiness to see me back stuck around for a couple.
I was growing tired, didn’t have the greatest expectations for Beale but was determined not to squander the opportunity for a little more music (plus the next days drive was short) so waddled over to BBKings firstly where the band was doing a poor cover of Brickhouse. Not at all what I was in the mood for or ever really in the mood for. So stuck my head into the local Karaoke bar. Yah I know but skipped the parts about the other bars closing earlier than normal and NOTHING else going on. The karaoke bar was packed, the list of wishful singers was long and varied and for reasons I can’t go into it felt like it was where I should be. To make this short story shorter, the fat black women started lining up to buy me shots and hopefully make me their next alimony payment. I ran back to the hotel.
I’m posting the Graceland trip separately as it deserves so. Apologies for delivering these late but have been catching up with family and exhausted.
2nd Flying Saucer (how is it these haven’t punctured NYC yet?)
1 Mississippi River
1 Beale St.
1 Great American Pyramid (yup, Memphis has a pyramid)